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Showing posts from 2013

Follow Up To My Health Upgrade

It finally happened - I got a cold.  For the first time since I drastically reengineered my health half a year ago, I found myself coming down with something. Since temporary setbacks are often a good time to judge your progress, I decided to take this opportunity to write an update on my personal journey through health and fitness reinvigoration.

Last time, I wrote about how low-intensity aerobic training had completely upgraded my health. My sleep schedule normalized, my digestive issues completely disappeared, my energy and mood both skyrocketed, and I generally felt "good" for the first time in my life. Since then, I've realized just how drastic a change I've actually made, but the real eye-opener is that I had never seriously considered that there was anything wrong with me - although my baseline was shitty, I never knew anything else, so I just wrongly assumed I was normal. Well, there is nothing normal about getting cold after cold in the winter, having one sl…

10 other things South Korea does better than anywhere else

Recently this article about 10 things that South Korea does better than anywhere else has been making the rounds on social media, but when I first read it, I couldn't tell if it was sincere or satire. A few of the items on the list are not very positive, such as "overworking" and "using credit cards". So, I thought I would try to put together a better list. Here are 10 other things South Korea does better than anywhere else:

1) Small side dishes, a.k.a. "banchan" (반찬)

Banchan are by far my favorite aspect of Korean cuisine. Rather than the "appetizer and main dish" approach of the West, a Korean meal is essentially built around small dishes. Even a 5,000 won (about $5 USD) meal at a mall food court will come with two to four banchan in addition to the "main", and often people will actually choose restaurants based on the banchan (e.g., seolleongtang, or beef bone broth soup, places tend to have the tastiest kimchi). There are hundred…

Is It Worth It To Learn Korean?

Learning Korean as a non-Asian foreigner is an exercise in masochism. Note that I specify "non-Asian". Why does that make a difference? Simply because Koreans possess a deeply-ingrained belief that non-Asians are incapable of speaking Korean. The self-fulfilling prophecy of it is that since Koreans expect you to be incapable of speaking Korean, due to this mental block, they are likely to not understand you regardless of your proficiency level. Additionally, they won't respond to you with normal Korean like they would respond to an Asian person, because they assume you couldn't possibly understand. You will rarely ever have an opportunity to hear natural Korean, because Koreans simply won't speak it with you unless 1) they are open-minded and awesome (meaning they have probably lived abroad - thank you to all of you), or 2) they have known you long enough that they've gotten past the odd sight of a foreigner speaking Korean.

In short, nearly every time you op…


(cross-posted from

언어는 공기다. 어떤 문화를 알려면 그의 언어를 못 한다면 모자란 스쿠바탱크로 숨쉬 듯이 몸부림칠 거다. 아무리 좋은 번역이 있더라도 그저 똑같지 않다.

언어는 햇빛이다. 지난 주에 첫 한국어 된 소설을 다 읽었다. 시작했을 때 모르는 단어가 너무 많아서 불가능한 일인 줄 알았다. 조금씩 읽던 스토리에 빠지며 더 쉽게 읽을 수 있게 되었다. 다 읽었는데도 난 아직 한국말에 갓난아기다. 그러나 이제 커튼을 젖혀서 이른 아침의 햇볕에 쬐는 갓난아기다.

언어는 감정의 정혈(精血)이다. 수백만명 사람의 마음을 움직이는 다른 방법이 있나? 음악도 있고 언어도 있다. 음악은 바로 언어의 한 종류다, 단어 대신 순 감정으로 만든 언어다. 음악을 감상하지 않거나 언어능력이 부족한다면 어떻게 인생의 굉장히 다양한 감정을 맛볼 수 있을까?

언어는 상대편이다. 나는 언어랑 늘 특별한 관계가 있다. 어렸을 때부터 말할 때 말을 더듬거린다. 다른 사람들이 자주 “나도 그래. 긴장이 될 때 말을 진짜 더듬거려”라고 관계를 맺으려고 노력하기는 하지만 정말로 어떤지 완전히 모른다. 상상해봐 — 말하고 싶은 걸 아는데 아무리 애써도 못 나온다. 조롱에 갇져 있는 종달새가 아침마다 자유를 이루려고 날개를 괜히 파닥거려서 감옥에서 못 달아나는 걸 깨닫다는 것처럼 — 그게 말더듬거리는 느낌이다. 그게 내 상대편이다. 그 상대편이 항상 옆에 있어서 그런지 언어를 너무나 좋아하게 되었다.

언어는 창조의 정수(精髓)다. 대부분의 문장이 적힐 때 인류사상에서 처음 쓴 거다. 그게 언어의 본질이다: 겸손한 연주자들이 모여서 훌륭한 교향악단이 되듯이 평범한 단어들이 모여서 감동적인 표현이 된다. 언어는 미움을 만들 수도 있고 사랑을 만들 수도 있다. 언어는 장인(匠人)의 인생 내내 쓰던 불완전한 도구다.

언어는 활기(活氣)다. 언어가 없는 인생은 색깔이 없는 세계와 같다.

언어는 희망이다. 언어는 신비(神秘)다.

How I Upgraded My Health, a.k.a. The True Hangover Cure

(cross-posted from

It’s all Ueli Steck’s fault.
A couple months ago, I happened across some Ueli Steck videos that I had already seen a couple years ago. I think they resurfaced after he got attacked by a mob of sherpas while ice-climbing without ropes on Everest. For those of you who don’t know, Ueli Steck is a Swiss alpinist that sets speed records on extremely technical climbs, without any ropes. He literally runs up mountains. For some reason, when I saw the videos this time around, I decided that I also wanted to run up mountains. In one of the videos, he explains that his training relies heavily on heart rate monitors, which intrigued me.
I’ve tried a few times in my life to “make myself” into a runner. I read Born To Run on a plane a few years ago and decided that I, too, could be a runner. Just like that. So I started running again, but just like every previous attempt, I gave up after not too long. How many other people have walk…

Self-Awareness: The Key To A Better Life

How do you become a better person? How do you uncover your faults, and once found, how do you know where to focus your energy in order to improve them? How do you even know that there's something wrong in the first place? The answer lies in self-awareness, an absolutely critical life skill that most people spend a lifetime avoiding.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been possessed of the notion that the world is overrun with people who tramp through life in a nearly unconscious state. I can clearly remember going to the store one day as a child and watching a middle-aged woman pushing a cart while muttering to herself, not like she was crazy, but more like she was just going through the motions of life. She was an NPC, and she was not alone. I was probably three or four years old.

Growing up to be the engineer and scientist (and philosopher?) that I am, I'm constantly searching for elegant solutions to the problems around me. My friends know that I very often start sente…

An Honest Assessment of My Korean Language Progress

Okay, six months of 한국어학당 finished (20 weeks x 20 hours per week = 400 hours of instruction), so I figured I should self-assess my Korean progress.

First, the positives:

- I speak better Korean than most foreigners here, which isn't saying much, since the bar is embarrassingly low. That is, if you can properly order food, say hello, goodbye, thank you, and pronounce (and remember) Korean names properly, then you are already ahead of probably 95% of foreigners, and Koreans will call you a "genius". It's 2013, people. This is sad.
- I can get around Korea just fine. I have no trouble with daily life.
- I can have conversations in just Korean about various topics, sometimes for hours.
- I can read and write better than I can speak.
- Occasionally, I can express complex concepts by mashing together words I already know.

Now, the negatives:

- My Korean is nowhere near "natural". The word and grammar choices I make are decidedly strange, and I don't sound lik…

Taking Responsibility

One of the most liberating and terrifying things you can do is to accept responsibility. For everything. Many of us grow up with the incredibly limiting belief that anything that doesn't go our way is someone else's fault. It's your teacher's fault, your friend's fault, your boss's fault, your partner's fault, the world's fault - whatever, as long as it's not your fault.

There is no surer way to hold yourself back than blaming your life and your setbacks on other people.

A particular pet peeve of mine is people who blame their character flaws on something out of their control. This takes a lot of different forms, such as, "I've got a bad temper, so he had it coming", or "Yeah, I'm just not good with responding to messages", or "I'm no good at talking to girls", or recently the popular anti-social excuse "I'm just not comfortable around people". Yes, I know that there are biological propensities…


Lately I've been thinking a lot about the barriers that we create for ourselves as we go through life. Most of them aren't our fault - we learn them as we grow up. But more nefarious is the fact that we don't just learn them; we're taught them. Society seems designed to constrain our lives into neat little boxes, and the more that I've come to realize this, the more I want to shout at the top of my lungs and tell everyone that the boxes aren't real. They're imaginary, and if you don't want to spend your life constrained to one of these nice little boxes, you don't have to.

But it's up to you, and no one else.

Yesterday, in Korean class, our reading of the day was a letter from a student to one of his old teachers, about the day when his teacher told them that everyone has a special talent. That day resonated in the student's mind, because at the time, he said that he had no dream. Hearing someone simply tell him that he wasn't destined t…

The Answer Is Inside

"I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it." - Morpheus, The Matrix

A typical Lunar New Year custom is cleaning the house from top to bottom, both to literally get your house in order, and metaphorically to symbolize a "clean start" to the New Year. This year, how about doing a Spring Festival cleaning of all the unexamined thoughts and buried feelings that have relentlessly accumulated over the last year?

Let's start with a simple question: When was the last time you really stopped to think? I'm not talking about taking a break from obsessing over work, or relationships, or the latest news and gossip. I'm talking about stopping everything and pondering the mind itself. I mean stillness.

Let me give you a hint - if you're not sure, then you probably haven't done it in a really long time.

2012 was an interesting year for me. It was the first year since fourteen that I d…